Hunger Games, part 2: food, economic fantasies, and the university

So I finished The Hunger Games, and rather than trying to give an account of my reading of the rest of the book, or even of some of the things that struck me as particularly annoying, tedious or problematic (Prim! The Hunger Games!*), I ended up writing a slightly more analytical/synthetic account, spinning out of one of the major problems I had with the book (how does food get to the Capitol?) and turning, as things do in my head, into a potential major research project on representations of the University in speculative fiction.

It’s under a fold for length and spoilers (main body is spoiler-free, but footnotes contain minor spoilers for the Hunger Games themselves).

One of the many things I heard about this book before I read it was that it is, in some sense, ‘about’ food. Certainly food functions in it as one of the main markers of the difference between the Capitol and the Districts, and between individual Districts (the cultural differences between the Districts are reflected in their different kinds of bread, for example). (Don’t worry, I’m not going to start in on the bread again. Though I could.) But the way food is acquired in the Capitol just very literally doesn’t make any sense. Here’s a couple of passages, the first from when Katniss is hanging out alone in her fancy quarters in the Capitol (p.92):

I programme the wardrobe for an outfit to my taste. The windows zoom in and out on parts of the city at my command. You need only whisper a type of food from a gigantic menu into a mouthpiece and it appears, hot and steamy, before you in less than a minute.

It’s actually impossible to tell whether this is Star-Trek-style replicator technology (a machine produces whatever food you name), an automated process (voice recognition software triggers a… gigantic vending machine? Which then shoots the food towards you through a… pipe?), or more-or-less room service, with a human bringing Katniss the food, but not registering in the text. If the last option seems unlikely, by the way, there is at least one other place in the text where Katniss does talk about being served food by humans in a way which renders them just as invisible as this. It’s while she’s on the train to the Capitol (p. 67):

The moment I slide into my chair I’m served an enormous platter of food. Eggs, ham, piles of fried potatoes. A tureen of fruit sits in ice to keep it chilled. The basket of rolls they set before me would keep my family going for a week. There’s an elegant glass of orange juice…

So Katniss has a history of concentrating on food to the extent that she blocks out the presence of other people in the room (or at least the presence of the serving staff: Effie Trinket, Peeta and Haymitch are present in the scene above and they’re all described in some detail, while the staff are just ‘they’.).

But I digress. The point of the passage above is simply that it’s unclear whether the Capitol has replicator technology. The passage I really wanted to talk about is this one, when Katniss is having lunch with her stylist, Cinna (p.79):

Cinna… presses a button on the side of the table. The top splits and from below rises a second tabletop that holds our lunch. Chicken and chunks of oranges cooked in a creamy sauce laid on a bed of pearly white grain, tiny green peas and onions, rolls shaped like flowers, and for dessert, a pudding the colour of honey.

I try to imagine assembling this meal myself back home. Chickens are too expensive, but I could make do with a wild turkey. I’d need to shoot a second turkey to trade for an orange. Goat’s milk would have to substitute for cream. We can grow peas in the garden. I’d have to get wild onions from the woods [BECAUSE GROWING ONIONS IN THE GARDEN, OBVIOUSLY, THAT'S JUST CRAZY TALK.]. I don’t recognize the grain… Fancy rolls would mean another trade with the baker, perhaps for two or three squirrels. As for the pudding, I can’t even guess what’s in it. Days of hunting and gathering for this one meal and even then it would be a poor substitute for the Capitol version.

What must it be like, I wonder, to live in a world where food appears at the press of a button? How would I spend the hours I now commit to combing the woods for sustenance if it were so easy to come by?

And here, at the point where Collins seems most aware of the politics and economics of the distribution of labour, is the moment where she reveals her most profound ignorance – and a large part of the fantasy structure of the book’s economics and politics. Because actually, even though Cinna gets the food at the touch of a button, that’s not how it came into being. Someone grew the peas, picked the wild onions, killed the chicken, grew the orange, shipped them all to the Capitol, traded them to the person who cooked them. Unless they have replicator technology, in which case someone invented the technology, mined the minerals for the replicator, manufactured the replicator, shipped the replicator and installed it in Cinna’s sofa, laboured to produce fuel to power the replicator, dealt with the toxic waste from the old-model replicator that this one replaced. Either way, all those hours that it would have taken you to get this meal together, Katniss – those hours were spent by someone. By lots of someones.

So at exactly the point where we might register the injustices caused by the inequalities between the people who labour to produce food and the people who consume it, instead what we register as an injustice is the fact that some people – even Katniss! – can’t have everything they want at the touch of a button. The invisibilization of labour on which the production of the meal depends, on Cinna’s level of the narrative (to Cinna, the labour which produces the meal is invisible), is repeated, not critiqued, at the authorial/readerly level (it remains just as invisible to us). Notice the question Katniss never asks, a question we (as readers) actually can’t deduce the answer to from the information we’re given: Where did this food come from? Who made it? Who should I thank for it? The only question is: Why can’t I have it without having to work for it?

The thing that’s very clear from the massively wasteful, resource-heavy, high-tech, consumer culture of the Capitol is that the District system (I looked up the wiki too, to see if this would be covered in the later books, but it’s not) would be absolutely insufficient to sustain the Capitol’s lifestyle. There are no mining districts for minerals, other than coal. The power produced by the coal mined from one near-exhausted seam is clearly not enough for the kinds of things we see the Capitol do. The only way this social system can work, I realized, is if my throwaway snarky comment from the last post (the Capitol isn’t dependent on the people of District 13 for power but only forces them to mine to humilate them) is true. There must be a whole shadow economy alongside the District system to enable the Capitol to sustain its lifestyle: there must be a Third World outside Panem on which Panem really depends.

And this, although I’m pretty sure Suzanne Collins doesn’t know it, is the most damning parallel between Panem and the contemporary U.S. – which runs off exactly this kind of ‘shadow’ economy, and off the fantasy that it doesn’t. The Hunger Games reflects a USian fantasy about a self-sufficient country with a hard-working, outdoorsy, frontier-type working-class (or possibly, depending on how you read Katniss’s father’s secret survival knowledge, a wise, in-tune-with-nature indigenous class) – but the fantasized system it constructs both requires and renders invisible the productive labour of a huge class of people whom the book simply fantasizes out of existence.

I will never have the time to do this, but I’d love to do a proper Marxist/Freudian reading of The Hunger Games (and the Harry Potter books too), tracing the exact psychic mechanisms by which the economic realities of late consumer capitalism are deformed, repressed, substituted, denied, split, etc. A social universe which makes no sense to this extent should reveal an awful lot about what we think social systems need, how they work, what they’re for.

I’m struggling to express what I mean here, so here’s a self-contained example which I hope will clarify it, and serve to end this post, which has got too long again.**

One of the things I was struck by when I was reading The Hunger Games was the idea that there should be a District Fourteen where they do all the research and development for all that tech: there’s a throwaway reference to ‘the Capitol’s labs’, but otherwise, again, there’s no sense that in order to have a lot of cutting-edge technology, you have to have a lot of highly educated scientists, engineers, and makers, and provide those people with the resources they need to come up with more technology: laboratories, materials, assistants, cleaners, time to think, a developed system to disseminate and exchange ideas. But there’s absolutely no mention of a university in Panem. So one of the social/economic fantasies that this book is expressing is the idea that it is possible to produce new technologies without a university sector.

This may be true, of course (although Collins doesn’t provide any alternative means of giving people access to the information and training they need to become scientific/technological researchers), but it’s – well, it’s sort of alarming for me as a university lecturer to imagine that most people think the university sector could simply be removed from the social structure without any negative effects, but beyond that, it’s really interesting. It reminded me, too, of J K Rowling’s official statement that there is no wizarding university in the Potterverse.

As someone who’s really invested in the idea of the university, and in the idea that universities have important functions to serve for the societies they’re in, I’m really struck by the fact that two of the most popular and widely-circulated imaginary societies of the last couple of decades completely omit the university,*** as extraneous to their concerns, as unnecessary. What does this mean? What kinds of fantasies about knowledge-production, about education, about the place of research in society, underpin this omission?

And this is a small enough project – unlike a tracing of the whole set of fantasies which underpin The Hunger Games’ throwaway worldbuilding (on what basis has Collins decided what can be left out, and what must be put in?) – for me to envisage doing something about it. When I carried on thinking about it, I realized that where imaginary universes do have universities, they’re very often located in the past. I recently reread Diana Wynne Jones’s The Year of the Griffin, which I wish I could get every first-year university student IN THE WORLD to read, and not only is that a fantasy society (and hence, broadly, imaginatively associated with the mediaeval over the modern, although one of its lead characters is a genetic biologist, so, go figure), but also, the plot is about how the university used to be a fantastic resource for its society until it became completely instrumental to the chief industry of the nation, at which point all the knowledge died out, and we have to recall the Great Founder of the University to put things right in a Return-of-the-King-style classic high-fantasy ending. So a university doubly associated with the past, there. And of course the most popular/famous speculative-fiction representation of a university in recent years must be Pratchett’s Unseen University: again, a quasi-mediaeval world.

So this has spun off completely from The Hunger Games now, to the extent that I might in all seriousness do a special journal article or a book of essays about contemporary representations/constructions of the university, and/or possibly how they’ve changed over time (I don’t know if education/universities are more common in SF from the 1970s and 1980s, or if it’s just that I read more high-minded SF from the 1970s and 1980s and trashier contemporary SF). Would any of you be interested in this (or know anyone who would?) Do you have suggestions for books to read or research already being done on this topic?

*Okay, just quickly: (1) it is a wilderness-survival deal, not a gladiatorial fight to the death as I was promised; (2) I didn’t even learn anything about wilderness survival beyond the classic Katniss gem ‘Water flows downhill’; (3) where are the cameras and why do they not get destroyed by the fireballs, etc; (4) this would be PHENOMENALLY boring to watch; (5) what is the audience’s investment, anyway? The Ancient Romans never altered the rules of a gladiatorial contest because they were following the contestants’ ‘emotional journey’; (6) HOW do you write 200 VERY BORING pages about a gladiatorial fight to the death and never clarify how your protagonist feels about killing or about the system which has forced her into it; (7) if you’re not going to clarify those feelings, could you possibly SPARE US the ‘OMG I don’t know if a BOY likes me, I don’t know if I like a BOY’, which frankly makes me feel a bit sick when I have to cut back and forth between that and teenagers getting eaten by a pack of mutant dogs.

** I would just call this blog tl;dr if I could put semicolons in the URL.

***I typed here “There are lots of other things that are absent in both, of course, like cleaners”, but then I remembered that of course Rowling has the House Elves. I’m not sure I can think offhand of other things that are absent from both universes. Oh – ha, homosexuality, of course. [Yes, yes, Dumbledore, I know.]

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19 Responses to Hunger Games, part 2: food, economic fantasies, and the university

  1. Cathy Butler says:

    Would you count Earthsea’s Roke as a university for this purpose?

  2. az says:

    Le Guin does universities so interestingly, and differently, to these examples. I am wondering if you could read the absence of the university in Harry Potter and Hunger Games as a critique of the total neoliberalization of society, where universities are no longer necessary because a “public” no longer exists. In Harry Potter, the Ministry of Magic is the privatized, governmental apparatus that may have replaced the university, wherein things like technology and research (which some people would call immaterial labor) are extracted. The Ministry does turn out to be kind of bad, right? (Clutching at straws here, I think you’re so on point about the Hunger Games.)

    • nowandrome says:

      a critique of the total neoliberalization of society, where universities are no longer necessary because a “public” no longer exists

      Ooh, that would totally be something to think through – I like the idea of trying to find a critical moment in what seems to be a fairly widespread fantasy about the redundancy of the university.

      The Ministry of Magic is really interesting because it’s one of the main markers/sites of what I call ‘Nazicity’ in the Potter books – bureaucracy as always-already Nazi. And yet it’s basically the only social institution in the wizarding world – everyone who does not own a small business, or who is not a full-time parent, appears to work there (and Harry and Ron and Hermione all go off to work there after the war). So the glitch in the worldbuilding there (which lots of people, especially fans, have pointed out) is a profound failure to be able to think a non-Fascist way of organizing society, or to think of organizations/institutions as anything other than Fascist – but also indispensible, the only possible way to organize immaterial labour. (Which is the only labour there is in the Potterverse really – or the only free labour: all the material labour we see is done by slaves.) (God, this gets more and more interesting…)

      • Cathy Butler says:

        This ties in to two of the educational worldbuilding glitches that have always bothered me in the Potterverse, and although neither is directly related to the University i think you’ve provided a context that encompasses them all. (No doubt these have been lengthily discussed in fandom, so forgive any egg-sucking lessons.)

        The first is the absence of any primary schools. Even if we assume that lessons in magic begin (unaccountably) only at the age of 11, it’s still the case that wizards and witches come knowing how to read, write and (presumably) add up. I assume they don’t go to ordinary schools, except in cases like those of Harry and Hermione who are raised by muggles, as it would be far too dangerous to the secrecy of the wizarding world to have untrained 8-year-olds firing off random magics in the playground. So, are they all homeschooled? By… their stay-at-home mothers? (In this world, stay-at-home fathers would be unthinkable.) Admittedly working witch mothers aren’t thick on the ground in these books (there’s Tonks, and, er, that’s it), but is that what JKR actively intended?

        Then, there’s the absence of any secondary schools in Britain other than Hogwarts. If classes at Hogwarts are, say, 25 pupils each (and they don’t seem to be any bigger), then there are 100 pupils to be educated in each year. Given a birthrate comparable with that of muggles, and allowing for a few fatal accidents (probably more common amongst wizarding children than their muggle counterparts), we can extrapolate that the total wizarding population of Britain is about 10,000. Yet this modest population supports, for example, several firms whose sole business is to manufacture broomsticks for the playing of Quidditch, a sport played by a few hundred people in the country at most, the majority of whom would keep their broomsticks for years. Annual broomstick sales in Britain are unlikely to exceed 100 per year, which is just not enough to support an industry on the scale implied.

        A lot of these problems would be solved by having more British wizarding schools. Now, I can see all kinds of reasons for Rowling not to want to do that – she needs to keep Hogwarts exclusive, after all, to main her primary fantasy of exceptionalism – but now it occurs to me that it also fits a wider tendency to eradicate the educational infrastructure tout court, making Hogwarts the only educational institution of any kind in the country.

  3. Katherine Langrish says:

    Pamela Dean’s ‘Tam Lin’ is set in a university, during the three years to graduation,and the whole fantasy is dependent on the protagonist’s and the reader’s knowledge of English literature and the road to self-knowledge and knowledge of the world… but it’s not set in an alternative universe. (Except in so far as all fiction is set in alternative universes.)

    I love this post: you articulate much that I’ve felt doesn’t add up about the world of the Hunger Games… having said that, coherent world building is very, very hard…

    • nowandrome says:

      Thank you! And ooh, I’ve heard of Tam Lin – this might actually spur me on to read it, finally.

      Coherent world-building is, I think, strictly impossible, even in realist texts. What’s interesting is seeing where and how the (inevitable) glitches in world-building line up together to mean something – as I tried to say in this post, what does Collins expect her readers not to notice? What elements of ‘world’ does she dump as irrelevant to her purposes? I think that says something about the purposes of the book, about its readability (you have to be able and willing to suspend disbelief about, eg, how the technology in the Capitol works), and about the cultural fantasies or ‘knowledges’ that underpin it. (I might be evolving another post on this issue, actually…)

  4. Loz says:

    Unseen University? ;)

    • nowandrome says:

      Yes! Another mediaeval one, though – firmly located in the past. (Although he does have a lot of experimental physics students, I think.) But yes, I am going to have to read/reread/read more Pratchett for this project, gah.

  5. nix says:

    I’m loving your posts! Because I like to read books about ~MAGIC!~ the universities (or colleges) are all universities of ~MAGIC!~ which is odd, as though this was the only thing worth studying…? Also, some of these universities are only ever mentioned in the context of learning how to do magic at a high level, rather than studying the history or economy or whatever of magic (from distant memory, the Tortall books by Tamora Pierce are like this).

    I think the concept of education and research more generally in YA spec fic is an interesting one. Some books also don’t seem to have a university per se, but a class/community/caste/race of scholarly people, who operate libraries and seem to know a lot (e.g. the Clayr in Garth Nix’s Old Kingdom books) as opposed to other classes/communities/etc who are, IDK, the WARRIORS or something (I’m sure there are plenty of examples out there). (I would like to have more to say about the system/s in the Spellwright series by Blake Charlton, but hoo boy it was tedious and I’ve given up after the first book. Have you read it? There is some interesting stuff mixed in there about language/magic and disability/dyslexia.)

    • nowandrome says:

      Yes! The DWJ university only has magic, I think, also, and you are right that this is INTERESTING. (This is more flattering to me as a lecturer though: fantasy that the university has a secret hoard of MAGIC KNOWLEDGE?)

      Ooh, and yes, the ‘scholarly caste’ is an interesting one – the Minbari in Babylon 5 (which I’m rewatching at the moment) have that. I haven’t read the Spellwright series, but then I have barely read any fantasy, it is embarrassing.

      • Rob H says:

        I think it’s *really* interesting looking at the university, especially in THG, but finding it hard to put my reaction to it into words (nb some of these thoughts are on the scholarly caste, which is why I’m replying here)…

        I think the first thing that I kneejerk-think is that we’re seeing this world through Katniss’ eyes. She is, I’m afraid to say, a dumbass. She’s the kind of person who thinks that defying the Capitol won’t have any negative consequences for her, her family or her district. It’s not really her fault though, as she’s only ever been educated in coal (imagine the syllabus!). It’s not necessarily that all labour has been made to be invisible, but that she doesn’t notice it because she can’t see the soot-stains. She doesn’t seem to notice that the man she’s having lunch with is *working*, perhaps because she’s so blinded by the veneer of pretty hair and tattoos. And when you realise that, and that everyone else in the capital must have a job too, I think the world shifts nicely to a “have/have not” paradigm where food features heavily, and into one about lack of career selection. Everyone we meet in the Capitol (even through the third book) is involved in making the games. It’s their “product”. A child from there could no more decide that they want to be a professional coal miner than a kid from district 12 could decide they want to be a designer. So things start to look a bit more like Matt Groening’s Futurama (S01E01) where everyone has a pre-set career chip, and is educated accordingly, so that everything keeps ticking over. It’s a bit of a stretch, but I’m seeing Plato’s Republic a little bit here too, with tailored educational programmes for the different castes.

        So when you’ve got districts full of people who are completely trained in the necessary vocations (including a caste over in District 5 (or wherever Beetee is from) who are all whizzes with electronics and can innovate for you), why would you need a university? That is, why would you need a university when you’ve reached a point in your society that has mechanics for keeping down the little people (the games themselves) and mechanisms for technological progress whilst staying politically inert? Perhaps it’s that universities exemplify adult, independent thought of a sort incompatible with this kind of society? The people of the capitol certainly seem (Cinna excepted) to be presented as frivolous children – perhaps keeping them this way is the only way to prevent dissident activities?

        Sorry for blathering on for ages and not hitting the point. But what I’m getting at is the incompatibility of the UNIVERSITY and STASIS. And the way this can be gotten-round and still have a technologically advanced society is to have castes of skilled vocational workers capable of advancing their own fields but are never given the tools for anything much further. Until they all come together, cross-fertilise ideas and expertise and have a revolution. Which is, really, the tragic flaw of THG as a controlling-construct. It allows a survivor, who is then a dangerous (to borrow a term) Mutt of district and capitol. Of pissed-offness and extra knowledge (not to mention popularity and deadly force). No wonder they seem to spend so much time ensuring victors are “otherwise engaged”…

  6. Geo says:

    I have to say, I can agree with your commentary but one of the things I liked a lot about The Hunger Games was being able to fill in the gaps with my imagination. It helped with the immersion for me, being able to just imagine what I thought Collins was trying to get at. I think it’s really hard to build an entire world in three books and then try and keep plot, character development and themes strong as well, so even attempting it I think is an achievement in itself.

    I’m not saying the books aren’t massively floored…. But I think there’s a level of enjoyment there for sure.

    In terms of ‘young adult’ fantasy the Garth Nix book ‘Sabriel’ is way better…

    • nowandrome says:

      Hello, and thanks for this comment! Look, writing a novel is hard, and everyone who writes a novel has done something amazing, that’s entirely true. And no-one will ever manage to create a completely coherent fictional universe, that’s also true. In my case, though, the incoherences in The Hunger Games completely destroyed any of the pleasures you clearly got from the books – I didn’t really see any ‘themes’ (I mean, I think food was a ‘theme’, but I thought the things Collins had to say about food didn’t make any sense; I thought Katniss’s character development made her unbearable to read about; and so on). So I genuinely didn’t get any real enjoyment out of the books. (Lots of enjoyment out of being angry with them, though!) Obviously lots of people do, including you, and my own response isn’t at all meant to invalidate yours. In fact, I’d really like to hear more about how you interacted with the books: how did you fill in Collins’s gaps? I just simply couldn’t see a way of doing so that would get me anywhere, so I’d be interested to know how someone else cracked the puzzle. Particularly at the moment, because I’m writing a book about exactly this kind of thing – one of the theorists I’m using, Wolfgang Iser, says that books have fixed points in them, like stars, but every reader sees a different pattern/constellation in those stars. What I was trying to do in this post was make my pattern visible to other people – not at all to say it’s the only possible way of joining the dots or filling in the gaps. If I’m seeing a rusty dipper and you’re seeing a beautiful swan, I’d love to know how to make that beautiful swan (though I may always just intuitively ‘see’ the dipper!)

      One of my favourite things in the world is the 1970s BBC SF show Blake’s 7, which has a drastically incoherent world, and I get endless pleasure from inhabiting that world, trying to fix it, seeing the incoherences not as the result of a show that was put together fast by several people on a budget, but as somehow like the complexities of the real world. So I think I know the kind of thing you mean when you talk about how this helps with the immersion. But I would like to hear more about it, too.

      • Geo says:

        First off – “Wolfgang Iser, says that books have fixed points in them, like stars, but every reader sees a different pattern/constellation in those stars.” I LOVE that. With a capital ‘LOVE’.

        I think in terms of filling in the gaps, I think it’s more from reading and watching loads of different books/shows and over time letting them all kind of merge together for me. Different explanations get borrowed/hijacked and it’s more a faint idea of ‘feeling like this matches up to this’ than actually providing a proper solid explanation. I think it’s why I like fantasy, it’s not something that is SET or rational or hopefully not something that one person can control. It makes books and shows more real because when everything isn’t automatically put in front of me, I think (usually not consciously) of how it could work or happen -in the same way I don’t understand how my toaster works but I can imagine how it toasts my bread.*

        I’m not sure if that makes ANY sense and it may just be a long-winded way of saying “I have poor taste” but there we go.

        Geo
        (Also, looking forward to meeting you at Supernormal! -I know Kev N, he showed my your blog a while ago/I’m from Bristol originally/Hello!)

        *my toaster is so rubbish

      • Geo says:

        I realised I didn’t really say anything in the previous comment other than ‘I quite enjoy fantasy’.

        What I meant to say was in regards to things like the description of her room in The Capitol… It doesn’t really have to be realistic. Maybe the author meant this to be some future dystopia on earth but I think differently. Weird–crazy science that borders on magic is possible.

        In regards to making your pattern visible to others- I think you did it well and it has made me think about the book differently but not in a way that hurts my own enjoyment of the book itself. I’d be interested in what you thought of the last book, which is drastically different from the first two and left me feeling a bit hopeless and dead inside while my 15 year old sister found it to be really uplifting…

  7. Beppie says:

    Since it hasn’t been mentioned, much of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials is set in/around Oxford University (one version of which exists in a chronotope that’s supposed to represent our own contempoary consensus reality, and another which exists in a parallel chronotope). An academic plays a key role in the trilogy, and the final chapter of the series implies that the protagonist is going to pursue an academic career.

    I also have thoughts re: The Hunger Games, but I’m too tired right now to articulate them.

  8. Tom says:

    Another shout for Pullman here. I’ve always been interested in the role of the university in those books, why Pullman chose to do it like that, the relationship between universities, academics and sovereign/state institutions (e.g. magisterium; the bear king). Think about Lyra’s dad trying to construct an impact narrative for the REF…

    This reading of Hunger Games is really provocative btw. It’s made me reflect back on the books of it I’ve read (first two). Thinking back on it now, I think I decided about half way through book one to read it as a book about trauma, repression and loss to explain things like the lack of emotion (horror?) in Katniss’s account. It was a theme of the book with the mother’s grief etc. But, also think about the ‘lost’ district that was destroyed by the Capitol but continues to circulate in popular memory. There’s that scene where their watching footage of the ruins of the lost district and they realise that the supposedly live feed is simply an automated repeat of stuff they’ve seen already, which seems a very cute depiction of traumatic recall. So, I wondered if Katniss’s lack of emotion is an attempt to link her into a wider discussion about history, memory and trauma that the book is trying to have.

    Glad to have read this blog post, because it reminded me about these books and these ideas.

    • Ika says:

      Thanks! And I should totally reread Pullman on the university.

      I’m intrigued by your reading of the Hunger Games, too: I like the idea of lostness and traumatic memory. But it also makes me more sharply aware of the lack of fit between the emotional content/effect of the books and their world/infrastructure. I think one of the things I read most consistently for, across books and TV and everything else, is that fit between world and emotions: what kinds of relationships, what kinds of feelings, what kinds of psychic structures and mechanisms and dynamics, are possible, given this social set-up? It’s something that works across genre and literary/art texts – Agatha Christie is an example of a perfect fit between world-building and emotional landscape, but so is Nabokov or Joanna Russ. (So is Mills & Boon, but I don’t tend to like their emotional landscapes – though I do like other genre romances, and again I think for the same reason.)

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